The Complete Guide to Proper JavaScript Usage With WordPress

I remember thinking “What the heck do we need JavaScript for, when we have Flash?” when I was fourteen. Although I still remember how I enjoyed coding stuff with ActionScript 2.0 back then, I saw how much one can achieve with JavaScript and fell in love with it. I’m not an expert on JavaScript (yet) but I can say I’m over and done with Flash for a long time.

When it comes to WordPress, the biggest blogging platform and content management system worldwide, JavaScript is – of course – very useful for many things: content sliders, lightbox galleries, slick shopping carts, UI elements like tabs or accordions… you name it. But how exactly should we use JavaScript with WordPress?

Returning or echoing a bunch of HTML script elements is one way to do it – and it’s wrong. In this tutorial, we’re going to see how to enqueue JavaScript files inside our pages and how to pass translatable data to the JavaScript code.

There are basically two important problems you may encounter if you inject JavaScript files directly into WordPress with HTML code:

  • Duplicate code on the same page: Let’s say you created a WordPress plugin and you need to include jQuery. You echo the proper script tag in the <head> and it works! But what if another plugin wants to use jQuery as well – how would it know that jQuery is already loaded in the <head>? It wouldn’t, and even if the other plugin includes jQuery the right way, the page would still have two instances of jQuery, because you’re not.
  • Problems with translation: Let’s say that you’re creating a lightbox gallery plugin and you need to pass strings like “Next”, “Previous” and “Image X of Y”. How do you do it without echoing inline JavaScript in the <head>?

The solution to the first problem is simply “registering” and “enqueueing” the JS files with the two core functions of WordPress: wp_register_script() and wp_enqueue_script(). The second problem’s solution is even easier: The core wp_localize_script() function allows you to pass translatable data into your JS code.

Before you can “enqueue” the JavaScript files, you should “register” them first. And that’s done simply using a function called wp_register_script():

Some notes on the parameters:

  • Name (required, string): The name of the script. You can choose any name you want, providing that’s not used by another script.
  • URL (required, string): The URL of the script. No need to explain this, right? :)
  • Dependencies (optional, array): The name(s) of other scripts that our script depends on. For example, if your script depends on jQuery, it will need to be loaded after jQuery. In this case, you should use array( 'jquery' ) for this parameter.
  • Version (optional, string): The version number for your script. You can choose between providing a string, setting the parameter to null or leaving it empty. If you set it to string, that’s going to be added to the output code like my-script.js?ver=1.2. If you leave the parameter empty, the version of your WordPress installation will be added as the version number. If you set it to null, nothing will be added.
  • Load in Footer (optional, boolean): When you enqueue this registered script, it will be loaded in the <head> section. But if you set this parameter to true, it will be loaded right before the closing <body> tag.

You can also “deregister” scripts that are already registered by the core or other plugins with the wp_deregister_script() function. It only accepts a 'name' parameter, which you provide the name of the script to be “deregistered”. Obviously.

There are a bunch of scripts on the WordPress Codex that are already registered in the core. Although, you should double-check the list for the current version of WordPress, since it refers to WordPress version 3.3 and might be out of date.

You can register a script but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be loaded automatically. After registering your scripts, you should “enqueue” them with the wp_enqueue_script() function:

Some notes on the parameters:

  • Name (required, string): The name of the script.
  • URL (optional, string): The URL of the script. As you can see, this time the URL parameter is optional because if you already registered the script, you can just provide the name and you’re good to go. But if you didn’t register your script, you must provide a URL for this parameter.
  • Dependencies (optional, array): The name(s) of other scripts that our script depends on.
  • Version (optional, string): The version number for your script.
  • Load in footer (optional, boolean): If set to true, the script will be loaded right before <body> closes.

You can also “dequeue” scripts with the wp_dequeue_script() function. Similar to the wp_deregister_script() function, it only accepts a 'name' parameter.

You can check the “state” of a script with the wp_script_is() function. For example, if you want to check if ‘my-script‘ is enqueued, simply use wp_script_is( 'my-script', 'queue' ) in an if statement.

The right way to enqueue your scripts (and styles, too) is using the hooks below:

  • wp_enqueue_scripts – This one enqueues scripts in the front end of your website.
  • admin_enqueue_scripts – This one enqueues scripts in the back end of your website.
  • login_enqueue_scripts – This one enqueues scripts in your login screen.

Due to compatibility issues, you mustn’t use the hooks named admin_print_scripts or admin_print_styles .

For further reading on including JavaScript (and CSS!) in your themes and plugins, you can refer to How to Include JavaScript and CSS in Your WordPress Themes and Plugins by Japh Thomson on Wptuts+.

When it comes to localization, JavaScript is always a problem with WordPress… because so many people doesn’t know the neat little function called wp_localize_script():

After registering, enqueueing and localizing the script, you can pass the localized variable in your script by using the name of the object and names of the data, like alert( nameOfTheObject.prevItem );!

You can refer to Pipping Williamson’s article for a more thorough analysis.

There is a reason why WordPress is the biggest content management system in the world: Its power comes from its flexibility. And I believe this tutorial proves (once again) how flexible it is.

This tutorial covers pretty much what WordPress offers about JavaScript usage for our projects. Do you have any more tips or techniques on JavaScript and WordPress? Tell us about it!


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